In Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’, the protagonist – Richard Mayhew – after playing Good Samaritan and rescuing a young girl in distress, finds himself drawn out of his safe, familiar, mundane life and into a strange new world . In some ways, Glasgow’s poetry scene is a bit like ‘London Below’ – only without the overly-loquacious assassins and psychotic angels.
I’m not being entirely serious – but, in the ten months or so that I’ve been exploring Glasgow’s poetry underground, most of the nights I’ve been at have been in venues I never knew existed before (including an upstairs room at the Mitchell Library which even the staff couldn’t find).
I suppose what gives poetry nights their faint sense of ‘otherworldliness’ is their complete absence from anything you might call ‘the mainstream’. They seem, mostly, to happen in slightly hidden, slightly out of the way places. (Except Seeds of Thought, at the CCA on Sauchiehall Street – which is about as obvious and not-hidden a venue for live poetry as you can imagine.) And, unlike Richard Mayhew, I didn’t find out about this other world by accident – I had to go and look for it. Facebook’s been great for that, there’s an excellent public group – Poetry & Spoken Word in Scotland – which lists pretty much every night that’s on, certainly in the central belt and often further afield as well.
And one of those nights (Maybe ‘the night’) is ‘Last Monday at Rio‘, hosted by Robin Cairns at the Rio Cafe, on Hyndland Street in Partick, just round the corner from Kelvinhall Underground station.
For what it’s worth – I used to work not far away, in the Library of the Western Infirmary, but to get there, I came out of the underground and turned left and then left, onto Byres Road. I never once turned right (or widdershins?) along Dumbarton Road. If I had, I might have happened on the Rio sooner. Or not. Honestly, who the fu*k knows? This isn’t Sliding Doors.
But now I’m down the rabbit hole (or across the Knight’s Bridge, if you want to keep battering away at those ‘Neverwhere’ analogies), I was in the Rio Cafe last Monday night, listening and reading a couple of my poems.
And, it was a great night. Mr Cairns is an excellent and welcoming host, it’s free, there’s usually a feature poet to round things off, it’s free, the food/booze/coffee is decent, it’s free, the regular crowd is lovely (Folk stay for the whole night, they don’t just come along to support their pals, then pi*s off as soon as said pals have been up on-stage.) and there’s a nice mix of styles (older poets, younger poets) and material.
In fact, one of the other things that reminded me of ‘Neverwhere’ was this mixture of older/younger, funny/serious (There was a lot of Trump inspired material on Monday, which delivered both the funny and the serious). An observation – may be born out in future, may not be – that the Glasgow poetry scene isn’t always a unified, singular – there’s an ‘older poets’ scene and a ‘younger poets’ scene. The former maybe focuses more on writing groups and societies, the latter is built more around slam competitions. Not saying one’s any better than the other, mind.
But ‘Last Monday at Rio’ seems to bring both scenes/groups together. Again with the ‘Neverwhere’ references, it’s like the Floating Market. (Or the Continental Hotel, if you happen to have seen ‘John Wick recently, like I have.) Some of this may be down to its being one of the longer and better established nights in the city – a lot of its probably down to the host.
Open mic’ers on Monday (that I recognised) included Gayle Smith and Stephen Watt. The feature poet was Anna Crow. All in all, now that I’ve been a couple of times, I’m starting to understand why so many people I met, in my (very) early days exploring the scene kept telling me to go along. I will be back.